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Infested ★★★★



Released: 2024

Director: Sebastien Vanicek

Starring: Theo Christine

Remember the days when killer animal horror films would occupy cinemas on a seemingly yearly basis? The post-Jaws film environment has always been ripe for vicious beast carnage, but it looks like in the past decade such joys have been relegated to midnight madness B-grade cinema. Well, seems like French debutant Sébastien Vaniček surely has some fond memories of natural horror, as his first feature film Infested (Vermines) is precisely the kind of spine-tingling genre movie with bite, venom, and a whole army of eight-legged freaks.

Speaking of those. David Arquette may have successfully fought giant spiders with a crossbow and a healthy dose of one-liners in the 2000s. Yet Vaniček’s film takes a significantly different approach to creepy crawlies. These arachnid killers aren’t just terrifying in their sizable appearance – they are smart, adaptable, and, most importantly, they breed like crazy. When a young sneaker reseller Kaleb (Theo Christine) brings home an endangered spider as a fresh addition to his exotic pet collection, nothing seems to indicate the sheer deadliness of this species. Little does he know, this spider would later cause an out-of-control infestation swarming his Parisian apartment block, leading to one of the most terrifying experiences any arachnophobe could ever witness.

As a straight-faced creature feature, Infested works shockingly well: in contrast with the aforementioned Eight Legged Freaks, Vaniček doesn’t mess about with goofy comedy or voice-enhanced arachnids. Initially, the concept of a spider-infested apartment complex might seem a bit like a cross-breed between [REC] and Attack the Block, yet beyond the overt narrative similarities, Vaniček’s debut feels decidedly fresh and inventive. It certainly helps that his direction is confident enough to support such a feature: commendable utilisation of negative space makes the spiders seem omnipresent even when they’re not on screen, prioritising suspense over jump scares or gratuitous gore gags.

Even more impressive is the expert balance of tone: where major genre films like Evil Dead Rise (coincidentally, Vaniček’s next project is a new Evil Dead spin-off) revel in their misanthropic tendencies, Infested positions its young lead as the beating heart of a small Parisian community. There’s a palpable sense of camaraderie coursing through the film’s brisk runtime, making each death that much more impactful as the bodies start piling up. And yet, the film never veers into nihilistic territory, even going as far as to sympathise with the venomous creatures themselves. Vaniček, who co-wrote the film with Florent Bernard, doesn’t shy away from infusing his work with obvious commentary on the creeping gentrification of Paris, and in doing so situates both the “attackers” and the “survivors” within the same space – all locked down by the police.

As the film comes to its logical conclusion and gives the lead character a cathartic send-off, it’s hard not to be in awe of just how effective this relatively modest genre debut managed to be. Infested is claustrophobic horror at its finest, bolstered by impressive character work and formal qualities far beyond most modern creature features. When a film leaves you wanting to check all the room corners for arachnid presence – that’s a thrill-ride through hell.

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